phytelephas

Definitions

  • WordNet 3.6
    • n phytelephas small genus of South American feather palms
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Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
    • n Phytelephas (Bot) A genus of South American palm trees, the seeds of which furnish the substance called vegetable ivory.
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Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
    • n phytelephas An aberrant genus of palms, type of the tribe Phytelephantinæ, and from its singularity long separated as an order Phytelephanteæ (Martius, 1835). It is unlike all other palms in its numerous stamens, filiform stigmas, and unbranched spadices, and in the elongated petals of its female flower. There are 3 species, natives of Peru and the United States of Colombia, known from the nut as ivory-palm. They are diœcious trees growing in dense and extensive groves, with a short robust trunk sometimes 6 feet high from a creeping and prostrate base often 20 feet long. They bear a crown of a dozen or more pinnate leaves, reaching 18 or 20 feet in length, resembling those of the cocoanut-palm, and used by the natives in roofing. The male trees are taller, and bear a fleshy and pendulous cylindrical fragrant spadix about 4 feet long, crowded with small flowers between minute bracts, each with about thirty-six stamens, and exhaling a penetrating odor of almonds. The female tree produces a shorter and erect spadix, six or eight at once, each with six or seven pure-white flowers, which are far the largest among palms, with from five to ten fleshy petals (each from 2 to 3 inches long), three papery triangular sepals, numerous imperfect stamens, and a roundish ovary with from four to nine furrows, carpels, and stigmas, becoming a drupe in fruit. The mass of six or seven drupes from oue spadix consolidates into a heavy pendulous globose syncarp, or multiple fruit (from its size known locally as negro's-head) covered with hard woody prominences. Each drupe contains about six large seeds; these, when young, are filled with a clear liquid, which is sought by travelers as a drink, and solidifies first into a pulp eagerly eaten by animals, and later into the hardest albumen known, whence its name ivory-nut. This again softens in germinating, turning into a milk and pulp, which feeds the young plant until it has grown for a year or more.
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Etymology

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
NL., fr. Gr. a plant + the elephant; also, ivory